[Crm-sig] New Issue: Non-human Actors

Robert Sanderson azaroth42 at gmail.com
Tue Sep 21 17:13:48 EEST 2021

Dear all,

In working with our natural history museum, we have a need to assign
non-human "actors" to "activities", which is not currently possible.

I think the easiest case to discuss is the construction of a (collected)
nest by a (known individual) bird.

We have an identity for the bird (and indeed, we have the remains of the
bird!) and we have an identity for the nest that the bird constructed. We
can estimate the time when the nest was made, and we know exactly where it
was made (due to where it was collected from).
For example:
Or a dinosaur nest, where the adult and the eggs and the nest are preserved.

If the bird (or dinosaur) could be an Actor, then it would be easy - the
bird carried out a Production, during the TimeSpan, which produced the
(coughcough)MadeObject, at the Place. However the only thing that can carry
out activities is a human or group thereof.

Similarly, the nest might have been built by a mated pair of birds, thereby
requiring a Group-like construct for non-human actors as well.

At the moment it seems like the best we can do is
(beginning-of-existence-of-nest)  P12 occurred in the presence of
(bird-as-biological-object), which seems woefully inadequate semantically
as it likely occurred in the presence of a lot of things, including other
birds that didn't actually do anything. The closer subproperty is P11 had
participant, which we can't use as birds cannot be actors.

This might also relate to other discussions, in particular:
* Instruments -- the instrument is somehow more responsible for the
measurement than the thing being measured. It is at least "instrumental in"
the measurement, be it digitally or mechanically.
* Bias -- that animals cannot take intentional actions is a pretty biased
viewpoint. Canis virum mordet, not only vir canem mordet. This might be
extended to un-observable agents -- a culture might believe that a ghost,
spirit, god, or other non-physical entity carried out some action.
* Software "agents" -- even if the software is acting totally
deterministically at the behest of another actor, a hard determinist might
argue the same for humans.

We could add a property either something like "instrumental in" with a
broad range (Persistent Item, as super-class of Actor?) that is less about
intent and responsibility, and more concerned with the required-ness of the
entity for the event. Or we could go further and create some new classes
between E77 and E39 that allow limited performance of activities by non


Rob Sanderson
Director for Cultural Heritage Metadata
Yale University
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